Sniffles come readily with just a dip into the SAD diet

It is truly amazing how sensitive I am to the Standard American Diet (SAD)- basically anything with sugar, salt, oil or processing will make me feel positively awful.  On a recent trip to Chicago, my ultimate weakness was spotted: a chocolate shop selling extra rich, dark hot chocolate.  It was cold outside with a wind chill that would make anyone want to hibernate and I was freezing from head to toe.  And I wanted that hot chocolate.  I wanted to hold it in my numb hands and I wanted to feel it’s rich warmth flowing down my throat. 

Within a few minutes that hot chocolate was mine- I ordered it with soymilk and topped it with a wonderful sprinkling of cinnamon- and I felt a rush of glee as I sipped the warm, sweet chocolaty bit of heaven.  I could taste the sugar as it rolled off my tongue.  I wanted more even though I knew it packed a heavy sugar punch. So I drank and I drank until I reached the solid chocolate bottom.    Add in a few pieces of white bread at a dinner outing and let’s just say my body did not thank me kindly in return.

Sneeze. Flickr: anna gutermuthNext day of trip- runny nose, check; icky congestion, check; I think I am getting sick, check.  Determination to seek out delicious, sugar-free, healthy food, check.

This is a confession of an extremely healthy eater.  I don’t feel well when I go off my nutritarian diet for even just a few meals.  I felt so much better when I found a Whole Foods Market and I was able to load my cart with a heaping pile of greens, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, beans and all of the other healthy foods that I adore.  I got some sweet potatoes and persimmons and I relished in a box of raspberries and blueberries.  And I bought a date sweetened, chocolate Lara bar, because I do love chocolate after all and healthy food will never equal denial for me. I felt alive and in the zone with my food purchases.  Goodbye sniffles and icky congestion! Hello tasty healthy food and feeling fresh and alive!

As anyone who has made the transition from the SAD diet to a plant-based, nutrient rich one will understand, our bodies simply feel better when we eat foods that nourish our cells with nutrients rather than foods that provide our cells with nothing but a nutrient devoid toxic load.  Not only does eating well help to prevent chronic diseases later on in life, but it helps us to live richly and feel most optimal in the here and now. 

The thing is, once you are eating healthfully for a big part of your life, your body is simply intolerant of junk foods.  You have to be unhealthy to build up tolerance to drugs, alcohol and junk food.  My father calls people intolerant of unhealthy choices, “black-belt nutritarians”  I must be a third degree black belt then, because I hate feeling icky if I eat SAD food.   I have learned the hard way, each time you feel physically bad, it makes you not want to eat the junk next time, so that these SAD events become more infrequent.  It may be a rare occasion for me, but then I get that wake-up call, which reminds me like a bolt-of-lightening that I can’t fool my body; it’s just too darn smart.  

Have you felt a difference in the way you feel when you eat a healthy, natural foods diet versus an unhealthy one? Do even small cheats make you feel icky?

Every time I don’t feel well after eating standard American fare I am reminded that feeling well truly is priceless and I am so fortunate to have the knowledge to make the right decisions about what to eat to feel my best now and into the future.  

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Comments (27) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jordan - January 17, 2012 11:37 AM

Interesting anecdote but correlation does not equal causation. While we might experience a stomach ache or gastrointestinal distress from consuming foods which our stomachs aren't used to breaking down(enzymes not readily available) I have a hard time believing that persistent head colds are also a result.

It's cold and flu season, you're out in the cold lowering immune response, you're outside your normal environment (on a trip as you put it) exposing yourself to bacteria possibly not found in your natural environment and one could imagine that you are in public places or public transit where these germs would find a home. Your head cold more than likely is a result of these environmental factors.

If you could produce evidence of a causal relationship between the food consumption and the immune response (such as in a food allergy) it would be a more convincing article.

Sally - January 17, 2012 11:40 AM

I am intolerant to sulfites which are found in most processed foods, breaking out in hives within an hour of eating something that contains them. I've been eating more and more nutritarian over the past 8 months and rarely have issues with sulfites anymore. But I noticed that I've become much more sensitive to sulfites than previously. For example, the slightest bit of dark chocolate (processed with alkali = sulfites inside!) now sends my hives into full swing. I've been secretly hoping my nutritarian eating style would eventually eliminate or reduce my sulfite sensitivity, but it seems to have heightened it instead.

Any ideas why this would happen? I'm also experiencing almost continuous gas and bloating, so I'm wondering if my digestion has become a little messed up by my diet, ultimately affecting my ability to break down sulfites properly.

Thanks in advance for any input.

Jayme - January 17, 2012 11:57 AM

I'm sitting here now with a chest cold for this very reason! I indulged in some junk food the last few days. I've been eating a very nutrient rich, natural diet for 10 months now - lost 80lbs and feel fantastic. Can't seem to tolerate the least bit of junk food anymore without feeling physically ill - or even what I believe is worse...cognitevely compromised!

Ginger - January 17, 2012 12:27 PM

So true and sorry for your sad outcome

Steve - January 17, 2012 12:37 PM

I just featured this on my FB page because I know exactly what your talking about. I had a similar experience on my Disneyland trip. I blogged about it on my blog Meatlessly Mouthwatering. You can find it at :-) Wishing you happy and healthy eating this year!

theresa angeletti - January 17, 2012 12:54 PM

I met my son for dinner on New Years Day at The Cracker Barrel Restaurant when he was deriving through town. I determined to not make a fuss over food and just enjoy his company. I refuse to pay 7-8 $ for a salad that I have to take everything off of so I opted for the beans and greens...which at the Cracker Barrel means ham and salt and oil in everything....... my tum was growling and dancing almost immediately and even though I took out as much offensive bits as I could you couldn't get away from the oil/butter/ and salt. Needless to say, I was messed up for almost a week and yes, the icky coldish crud stalked me too! I have been juicing and getting back on track too! I guess I am a black belt too! Yea!!!! Thanks for the encouragement from a true black belt nutritarian!!!

Laura - January 17, 2012 12:56 PM

Absolutely! It is remarkable how much of a difference there is. This is something that is not easy to convey to others living on the SAD diet; they simply have never felt so alive and cannot truly understand the motivation that healthy eating gives to those of us who have experienced the difference.

"Black-belt nutritatianism" is how I am navigating perimenopause naturally and healthfully!

Sandy - January 17, 2012 1:03 PM

My neighbor brought over a couple heavy duty chocolate muffins with chunks of dark chocolate inside. After 2 months on the Furhman plan and an excellent cholesterol score (146 total and 81 LDL!) I inhaled those muffins. It lead to me eating extra carbs and sweets for about 4 days. I am managing to pull myself out of it. The cravings are strong, though. And I sure feel like hell. It's creepy how just one taste of the refined stuff seems to take control over my better judgement. I have been a carb addict my whole life and I think it's going to take some time of being a nutritarian before I can feel less "on guard" around the junk.

Nora - January 17, 2012 1:22 PM

Amen! Like you the "justifiable" indulges get more rare as I have a more and more definite memory of how they will result in feeling sick. It is a blessing that our bodies are so used to being fed good food that they revolt at the first introduction of poison. I believe this is a good thing! Thanks for the encouragement to not give in!! My "indulgences" these day are more often just over eating on the wonderful healthy food I make. I still need to get in through my head that even too much "healthy" food is an extra stress on my body!!

Javier (GorillaFit) - January 17, 2012 2:09 PM

Ok, when I read this I was like wow this is so me. I eat pretty much always a high nutrient rich diet with a occasional stray. In fact it does seem that healthy individuals who eat a good diet are more prone to getting sick quicker when they stray off a healthy diet as apposed to eating junkie and getting the immune system use to poor fuel. I can't find really much on this scientifically but my journey for these answers continues. I just came down with a cold twice this year and had barely a noticeable cold in the last 3 years that I was eating well. So what I do notice though is that sleep, age, fitness, stress, diet, and hydration are all critical for the right balance of the immune system. Once your sick no matter what you eat it really can erase the cold or flue it seems. I mean spending hundreds of dollars on high antioxidant foods trying to boost my immune system did nothing. So what helped. Going back just to my healthy diet, drinking water but most of all sleeping. I would call sleep the best "antioxidant" against colds. Loose sleep and your looking for some trouble. The nights that lead up to a cold I was sleeping 6 to 6.5 hours and keeping a high physical fitness regimen with little to no down time. Also kept my schedule full. This formula will bring on colds for sure. I don't smoke or drink so those are not part of my life in which they could have triggered these colds and I am not high stressed usually.

So what I decided to do is when I get sick, or I get a illness I embark on a journey to discover all I can on the subject.

What I found was that viruses mutate so even if you think your immune system is top of the line there will always be a new virus or bacteria that can infect you. Your only chance to shorten it is rest well when it first comes on and avoid sugar like the plague. Viruses seem to work quite intelligently and often have ways to fool your immune system to not finding it. So the only defense against these viruses and finding them is allowing the body to do what it does which is heal. As Joel Fuhrman said no medication can stop it. This will only make things worse and cause side effects and maybe prolong the infection.

My research on colds and viruses continues but for now build the best immune system by eating right, sleeping enough hours, reducing stress and drink water consistently.

Unfortunately it seems that taking sick days is less tolerable in the work place. I think this part of work needs to be reexamined because by not getting proper rest it can be extremely hazardous to your health.

Betsy - January 17, 2012 2:14 PM

This explains why when I visited a cousin's house for a week at Christmas time I suddenly came down with the most horrific cold. Their eating habits are so bad (as in, they order their dinner "without the vegetables" at a restaurant - I kid you not) along with having Christmas treats around that I just went off ETL or even veganism for a week. I had had a tremendously stressful fall and wasn't sick for one day but eat poorly and in a few days I'm sick as a dog. Now I'm putting it all together.

Fred - January 17, 2012 2:34 PM

"our bodies simply feel better when we eat foods that nourish our cells with nutrients"

I couldn't agree more! However, a hot chocolate (even a really nasty one, like cheap Swiss Miss with dehydrated marshmallows) isn't going to cause a cold. I'd bet you were already getting sick from travelling to Chicago during the winter - recycled air on the plane, other sick people, etc.

Kevin - January 17, 2012 3:32 PM

A hot chocolate and a few slices of white bread made you sick...Doesn't that imply that your immune system is WEAKER now?

Please help reconcile this for me.

Miriam Neumark R.N. - January 17, 2012 3:34 PM

Jordan I have additional personal EVIDENCE to share with you .. Your comment above requested more evidence ..
Bottom line is this .. SUGAR is Toxic for the Immune System.. High Corn Syrup FRUCTOSE is the worst and its used in all prepared foods in the market.. Better to read all ingredience and AVOID ALL processed and packaged foods that sneak that artificial glucose/ fructose into their ingredience.., I too have been trying to follow a Nutritarian diet for over a year.. I actually love that type of food since I read Dr. Fuhrman's Book , " EAT to LIVE " in Nov. 2010.. But like many of us sometimes I cheat and consume SWEET treats.. It NEVER FAILS me , a few hours later I start coughing and get a sore throat !! So of course , I know how to Boost my immunity FAST .. I take liquid garlic in my green Tea.. and I start taking oil of Oregano several times that day ... BINGO I feel better .. I ReGAIN my strong Immunity and "I vow not to eat sweets again "..BTW, I have not had a cold or no flu for many years .. I live in TORONTO , Canada ,so we also have cold winters.
Jordan , with a Strong IMMUNITY , no one picks up bacteria or viruses fron others..Proper hand washing is also important of course .. Just SOAP & Water .. No harsh alcohol products !!This scenario has happened many times , for me personally Regarding coughing and sore throat after eating some extra sweet stuff... So I really know that Sugar is POISON , for us .. Especially when your body is used to the GOOD NATURAL HEALTHY foods encouraged by the Nutritarian Diet !!
Happy New Year ..

Jen - January 17, 2012 4:55 PM

@Kevin- the issue here is one of "tolerance" and "toxicity". A person eating a nutritarian diet will have very little tolerance for junk food. The body generates strong symptoms in an attempt to rid the body of the toxicity of the junk foods. The ability to generate strong symptoms in response to toxins is a GOOD thing and means the immune system is strong. But the folks who can eat crap food and eventaully feel nothing? Their bodies are so overloaded and overworked that they don't even generate symptoms anymore. That folks have developed a tolerance for bad foods, which makes them think they can eat crap food without consequence, which is absolutely untrue and dangerous.

Joel Fuhrman, M.D. - January 17, 2012 5:11 PM

You guys might think it is a virus, because you have not experienced living as a “black-belt” nutritarian and not observed this occur routinely in hundreds of these individuals when they stray from their nutritarian diet. Feeling stuffy and mildly congested for a very short time, not feverish, chilled, and sick is the difference. Furthermore, it resolves immediately (within one day). Developing headaches, diarrhea or being more fatigued the next day are also quite common. At some of the Whole Foods full week immersions and at our Annual Getaways, I have seen many SAD eating people who begin to eat a healthy nutritarian diet and within a few days develop detox symptoms that you would be amazed, mostly headaches, but even fevers, sore throats and sore tongues that resolve in a day or two, that could be easily mistaken for an infection, not detox. It is very different way of recognizing the body’s functions and capacities.

Jordan - January 17, 2012 5:59 PM

I've been a nutritarian for years now, vegan for longer, own all of Fuhrman's books, used to be a member of the private section, have received personalizd recommendations on supplementation, etc.

I experience discomfort when I eat SAD foods as well but attributing cold and flu symptoms to it without any rigorous clinical trials is a bit much hence my comment about anecdotes and causal relationships in health. The symptoms described sound more like a food allergy to me.

Miriam - your wooful, misspelled and grammatically atrocious caps lock-infused rant doesn't really impress me. Anyone can be subject to bacteria and viruses regardless of their diet. Pretending you are SUPER IMMUNE due to your diet is insane. Do you think your diet would protect you from HIV infection? You immediately state after this assertion that washing your hands is also important. Why is it important if your diet has made you immune to infection?

Toxicity is determined by the dose, not the substance itself. Not sure how much sugar you'd have to consume for it to be toxic to your body but too many people bandy about the word 'toxic' without understanding what it actually means. Water, in high enough dose, is also toxic. It's all relative. If you're going to claim a few pieces of bread as toxic you're going to have redefine toxic.

Dr. Fuhrman - with your clarification regarding the duration of symptoms this makes more sense but you can see the effect that the idea has on the faithful when they talk about how SAD food brought on a long lasting cold/flu for days on end. I'm not claiming that the information you've provided is misleading but without these clarifications you can see what a little bit of imagination does with it given free reign.

Michele Bernstein - January 17, 2012 6:28 PM

Been there, done that! Its amazing...and who woulda thunk it?

Fred - January 17, 2012 6:35 PM

@Dr. Fuhrman - I lost you. Stuffy nose that "resolves immediately" but its also common to have headaches, diarrhea and fatigue the following day? Wouldn't that mean it doesn't resolve immediately and it's not just a stuffy nose? From ONE hot chocolate? I'm not a doctor, but I'd say something is fundamentally wrong.

I have a real, real hard time believing that travelling to Chicago during the winter didn't play a huge part in this. But again, that's just another correlation (however, a more likely cause if you as me.

Thanks for commenting on here, btw. Very cool

Woodrow Fowler - January 17, 2012 9:01 PM

I have been eating ETL for four weeks and like how I feel. I had just a small few bites of fetuccini last nite and oh how long the night. I felt like I had been beat up with a baseball bat.
by this evening. back on blended salads and I am ok

that 'll teach me.

back to feeling better in many a year.
and so worth it

Danielle - January 18, 2012 1:23 PM

I feel so relieved reading this post from you! It explains so much of what has been going on with my body over the past 8 weeks. During this time I was suffering not only from extreme nausea from my first trimester, but a headcold or virus a month. My diet, due to the nausea, was not its standard self of green smoothies, salads and heavenly vegan concotions (see our website for the goods!)... instead, I was eating crackers and toast, or whatever I could keep down. Occasionally indulging in a sweet and I found that a day or two later I was congested and sick just like you!
Cravings aside, I now have more motivation to stick to my non-SAD diet than ever. Thanks for your honesty!

mgm - January 18, 2012 3:24 PM

I realized I had a wheat sensitivity as a teenager, after coming off a 72 hour fast. For one thing, while on the fast my nighttime cough - every night since I could remember - went away. Then I broke the fast with a piece of toast. In two hours I had a 'full on head cold'. Miserable. It lasted about five days. It wasn't a cold, but the symtptoms were indentical. It was just a massive reaction to an unwelcome substance put into a pure system. When the same thing happened again a few years later (not a fast this time, but eating wheat after a time away from it)I knew wheat was 'a thing' with me. Sadly, I didn't make the migraine connection until just recently and just kept eating wheat, putting up with the nightly cough. So I would tend to agree that dietary lapses don't 'give you a cold', but if it feels the same, what's the difference, for the point of this article? The main point being, this crap makes you feel awful, and quick, when your body has gotten use to not having to put up with it.

mrfreddy - January 18, 2012 7:21 PM

After I cut out sugar and starch ten years ago, I find myself going years between colds. I honestly can't remember the last time I had one.
And I cheat plenty, I'm just getting back to my normal weight after a two-week sugar binge over the holidays.
And all that cheating - we're talking ice cream, cookies, fudge, fritos, french fries... the works! - didn't give me the sniffles or anything else.
I figure it's the combo of no sugar and plenty of saturated fat that is keeping my immune system and my body strong.

CACC - January 19, 2012 9:04 AM

I definitely have had this experience, too. I think what happens is that on a nutritarian diet, you get used to a higher level of normal, so when you eat SAD and start feeling the way you used to feel, it feels like illness now. But, that sick feeling is probably just "normal" for anyone who is always eating the SAD.

Talia - January 19, 2012 7:41 PM

Jordan, I am certain the feelings I experienced were due to my body's reaction to eating junk foods and not some other reason. I do not have any food allergies and when I come down with a cold (which does not happen often) I feel weak and do not want to get out of bed. If this was a virus I would have experienced different symptoms, such as chills and fatigue that I can easily distinguish for the symptoms I experience when I eat SAD food. Just one meal filled with sugar, salt, or oil can affect the way my body feels, as I have learned from experience and these symptoms are quite different from that of a common cold.

Fred, I have never had the more severe reactions of headaches, diahhrea and fatigue after eating poorly, usually just a stuffy nose and an overall sensation of ickiness. I think Dr. Fuhrman is referring to the symptoms of detox that occur when people who have been eating the SAD diet for years switch to a nutritarian diet. Hence, headaches, diarrhea and fatigue would not result from one hot chocolate but from years of abuse to one's body. I hope that provides some clarity.

Angelique - January 20, 2012 8:45 AM

I always feel crummy after having things with refined sugars etc, too.

Just thought I would share, for anyone missing hot cocoa..

This morning, hot cocoa DID sound wonderful.. it was 19 degrees outside... SO, I experimented and blended 5 dates into 2 cups of unsweetened almond milk (enough for me and my son) and 1 tbsp cocoa powder. (could have probably gotten away with less dates by soaking them overnight or by using a medjool.. but I hadn't thought ahead and had no medjool dates).

It was quite delicious! (it had been a long time since I had any hot cocoa)... I know it could have more nutritional values to it, but I thought it a nice alternative to traditional cocoa! some of the blended dates settled to the bottom, so there was a little sweet deliciousness at the bottom of the cup (just like i used to get in my old cocoa, just a little chewier)

MarathonME1 - January 24, 2012 9:07 AM

I agree so much with the article. I have just recently reacted this very same way while embarking on a journey that involved far too much chocolate and sugar in the form of maple syrup, but too much sugar for my body. Those referring to the stuffy nose, etc as being sick are missing the point. These are not symptoms of a cold in this situation, they are symptoms of your body reacting - producing histamines. After eating a mostly nutritarian diet our bodies become much more sensitive to unhealthy food and we are more aware of those reactions because we know how good we can feel. Thank you to Dr Fuhrman and Talia for their comments.

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